I want to pass along this note I received from a close friend, Alex Brooks, who has decided to sell his interest in a rural update New York weekly newspaper. For Alex, it’s a time for change to some undertakings outside the newspaper arena. And it could be a moment for change for a buyer. If you are ready for a change, have reasonably secure finances, and want to move to a place heralded by artists, near Vermont, near the stable government-tech economy of Albany, N.Y., a well-served regional airport, and within a pretty easy drive of the cultural attractions of Berkshire County, Mass. (Tanglewood, museums, etc.) He tells below a story which may surprise a bit, validating the theory that good newsharing is still good business once you get out of the city and daily genre. So if anyone out there is interested in taking over Alex’ paper, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex wrote me:
“We are in search of someone who would like to take over the Eastwick Press. My reasons for this have mostly to do with the arc of my life and ambitions I've harbored for years to do things outside the community newspaper arena. It’s also a moment in the paper’s development when new energy and perspective could allow it to go to the next level.
“This is my story:
“Some 15 years ago I began publishing a little community newspaper in a small upstate New York town. I began it as sort of a hobby, a 12-page, newsletter-style publication with a dozen advertisers, covering just one town. The enthusiasm with which it was received surprised me. I got letters almost every day praising our paper, including a fan letter from the editor of the closest big-city daily, who happened to live in my town. Everywhere I went people told me they love the paper. They wanted to talk about local politics with me. I was explicitly invited into neighboring towns by political leaders hungry for a little community conversation. A local retired citizen came to me and said he wanted to help, and he spent five years building up my advertiser and subscriber base for pretty meagre compensation, just because he believed in the enterprise. I soon had three partners, and we were a weekly, 16-page tab covering five towns and two school districts. It was very clear that the kind of journalism I was doing was being neglected by everyone else. The hunger for a community conversation is clear and corporate bottom- line journalism isn't responding to it.
“I should say that reports of the death of print journalism are greatly exaggerated. The big-city dailies do seem to be dying, but community weeklies are growing. In New York State, there were under 600 community weeklies in 2002 with total distribution of 7.2 million copies. In January 2007 there were 740 papers distributing 11 million copies each week, and in January 2008 there were 812 weeklies with combined circulation of 13.5 million. These figures are from the New York Press Association's database and do not include “pennysavers” or shoppers.
“When big-media Cassandras come to our conventions and prognosticate about the future of journalism being interactive and hyper-local, we just grin at them, because that's what we've been doing all along. Sure, we're moving more of our activities on-line, but that's not the key thing. The key thing is that people are engaged with what we're doing. The high school kids are interested in our paper because they and their friends are in it all the time. When I write an article about something people are interested in, I know I'm going to hear from a lot of people. Some will e-mail, some will write letters, some will chat me up at the local diner, and some will telephone the office. Most of these people I already know, some may be just joining the civic conversation. My challenge is to find ways to have all these people be heard in some way. Sometimes they are quite articulate and can write a letter to the editor for publication. Others are not too good with language. When they have legitimate concerns and insights, it's my job to find a way to give them a voice.
“It's a noble calling, and it can make a huge difference in the civic life of the community. It's a lot of hard work and the pay isn't always munificent, but you can make a good living at it and you get to call the shots editorially, answering to no one but your readers.”“Basically, the deal is this: we are asking $130,000. We may be able to arrange some financing. We have an extremely loyal readership, the income is pretty reliable, and there are good prospects for growth and expansion. As it is now, this operation is a little small to be a comfortable business unit. With an investment of work and time, it could be grown into a two- or three-flag operation that would be quite a comfortable business.
“It takes a long time to develop a successful and profitable newspaper, and I would say three quarters of the work has been done here. I and my three partners are getting near retirement age (average age over 60) and we feel some new blood is needed to take this business to the next level. Two full-time people could run the paper, but three would probably be more comfortable, and more conducive to expansion. Some of the current partners may be amenable to continued participation.
"There are several directions you could take this project. For some, it might be a fun retirement project; for others, it might be an affordable entry point to becoming a media mogul; for others, it might be a chance to develop a new model for a successful 21st century journalism. If you’re interested in learning more about the paper, I can e-mail you a one page information sheet that has a summary of salient facts about the business (I’m at email@example.com
), or you can call me on my cell at 413-884-4959 if you’d like to discuss it."